I love the tag line for International Assistance Dog Week. Because there is a dog for lots of different “thats” – some that we think about a lot (guide dogs, to some extent service dogs), and many that we don’t (hearing dogs, seizure response, diabetes/blood sugar alert, PTSD…).
It’s important for me to look outside of my little Lab mobility service dog bubble and see the variety and talent of amazing assistance dogs who do incredible and different tasks to help mitigate a variety of disabling conditions.
For more information on International Assistance Dog Week, check out assistancedogweek.org.
Yesterday the East Bay and South Bay Canine Companions (note to self: not!CCI) held their annual Chapter Workshop together. This is the first one I’ve attended for some reason, and I’m so glad I did!
You know the day is going to be great when one of the first people you (and the dog) see after getting out of the car is James – Cassius’s trainer and now the Puppy Program Manager for the Northwest Region. Cassius momentarily turned into a goofy wiggly happy puppy, but mostly contained himself and did a somewhat respectable greeting. I love how much he loves all his people, even after many months of not seeing them.
Now to sessions: these included the over-managed and under-managed dog (which reminded me of a few handling errors/shortcuts I tend to make and how I need to be better about them – imagine that, Cassius is a lot less likely to forge when hurrying when I ask him to sit beforehand!), things about loading and unloading from the car (James made me feel better about how we do that/car-riding in general).
We had a little time to visit and say hi to people and dogs alike, including the cutest black fluffy puppy I’ve ever seen. They need to breed more black fluffies! Then we had a session outside on appropriate play and encouraging dogs to play appropriately using rewards without expectations – that was a new concept and it made a lot of sense.
An update on some of the programs going on – PTSD study (including the best video ever of one of the dogs showing off the Search skill!) and the fMRI study – was followed by one on the breeding program, loved hearing about that as I don’t follow it too closely. Apparently there is a huge long waitlist for a dog in the NWR, which is a good problem to have although not good if you’re waiting for a puppy!
We ended the day with more visiting of humans and dogs, and I left as always – inspired by the people and dogs I am privileged to work with.
Had our annual Canine Companions for Independence – East Bay Chapter dog holiday party! Met Santa, played games (and won toys!), said “Hi” to new and old friends, and survived being dressed up in a Santa hat!
I see those things pop up on my Newsfeed like clockwork every morning in November, people listing daily what they are thankful for. I’ve never really done that, mainly because I don’t know if 3/4 of the people reading my newsfeed really even care what 30-something things I am thankful for, and maybe because it just feels a bit too invasive and self-serving for me.
But today as I watched Canine Companions Graduations on breaks at work and when I got home, I felt I should state the (very) obvious: I am so thankful for my dog. Cassius doesn’t make the hard stuff go away or all the painful ness of having a disability go away, but he sure is a help.
I dropped my earbuds on the floor today when I was trying to put them in my drawer after a break and missed. When you are like me and have the combination of eye issues and balance/mobility problems, honestly finding what you dropped is a challenge in itself! But not for CassiusThe Retriever. Picking up things and carrying them places is FUN!
So with Cassius’s help, I got myself out of that annoying situation and got back to work with minimal pain and frustration. For that I am ever-so thankful.
This week marks International Assistance Dog Week. I think it’s a great idea to make us think more broadly, and more compassionately, about the entire assistance dog community. I recently had a sort-of encounter that made me reconsider this.
Normally seeing other working dog teams out in public is nice. There is the moment of acknowledgement, the admiring of both dogs behaving themselves, and then going on our own separate ways. Often this is done without so much as a word between the two handlers, just a communal acknowledgement. (Unless it’s a fellow CCI handler/raiser/volunteer, then you end up discussing breeding and raising and who trained the dog in Advanced Training!).
Last week, though, I had my first “bad” encounter with another service dog handler, and I was honestly a bit shocked. I was at my local independent grocery store, checking out the prepared food. Cassius was standing between me and the counter. Guide dog and handler come barreling down the aisle behind me (aka, before I had time to react!), dog sticks its nose in Cassius’ face on the way past. Cassius rocked a pretty darn good “leave it”, guide dog got a stern forward. All good, right?
Apparently not. As I was checking out, I heard the handler asking the cashier if they knew there was another service dog (in a blue vest. Hello, if you gave enough vision to see the blue vest, how about seeing the big honking yellow dog in said blue vest?!) in the store… “And if they knew if it was a real service dog?” Sigh. Thankfully I buy a lot from said grocery store and they know I’m almost always there with Cassius, so they stood up for me… But it was rather bizarre.
So what can be learned from this? Education! Education for other service dog handlers (yes, there are indeed other types of service dogs besides the kind that you have!). Education for the public about fake service dogs so that the default question isn’t “are they a faker?” And education for businesses so more can make good judgements like this one did.
And while we’re at it, how about some education for your dog so it doesn’t sniff things on the way past. 🙂
(Lovely, but how did they get around the information/media/social media embargo? We weren’t allowed to divulge names until at least Monday of the 2nd week, if not later! Guess NER isn’t as hardcore about it as NWR!)
Having not just one but a few different medical conditions, I kind of feel sometimes like I’m inundated with awareness weeks and months: apparently there are now two different ones for craniofacial conditions, a day for Rare Diseases in February, Moebius syndrome in January, and probably one sometime for alopecia areata – which has been in remission for so long I don’t keep up with their events!
But anyway, this week is International Assistance Dog Week. It’s great that it’s being celebrated so that all different types of dogs, handlers and teams can be recognized – from more traditional guide dogs and dogs that help people with mobility impairments to seizure and diabetes alert/response dogs, dogs for people on the autism spectrum, and therapy dogs working in a variety of settings.
There are several events and demonstrations happening, if you have any questions or are interested in how an assistance dog might work for you or your family… think about attending one of these (or commenting below, I’ll try my best to answer!)
You’ve probably read about Nicole Kelly, recently crowned Miss Iowa, who happens to have a limb difference. Pretty amazing! Even more interesting, or more random, is that she isn’t the first Miss Iowa to have a limb difference! Granted in every other way possible she conforms to our cultural beauty norms, but I still have to give credit for the judges and organization for their choice.
Maybe this is just because I spent a year or two watching way too many episodes of Toddlers & Tiaras (aka, near child abuse in the name of a crown and trophy), but I have to admit I’m a little judgmental about pageants. Miss America is a bit better (they did, after all, crown a deaf winner once), and I kind of love Miss Iowa’s platform – both supporting disability awareness, and supporting VSA (an arts organization for people with disabilities).
Her talent was Defying Gravity from Wicked, which I think encompasses perfectly what she is doing in raising awareness of people with differences and disabilities.
I wish her the best of luck and hope she wins the whole darn thing!
I joke that my dog would be the worlds worst guide or hearing dog… the whole alertness thing is not is forte. But I think (hope!) he has enough self-preservation that he would help me out here (although it’s not part of his job description, he would like you to remember)!
Since O’Neil is in his final stages of training, one very lucky recipient will get partnered with an already-famous dog!
As someone who went through 10+ years of speech therapy due to Moebius syndrome (facial pareisis), I can’t tell you how much I would have benefited from having a facility dog there! I actually didn’t mind my private speech therapy sessions, usually (I was lucky to have a few really good therapists). But doing it week after week, year after year gets a bit old.
Speech is also funny when it comes to my dog. Cassius understands me perfectly. I actually don’t get mis-understood that much anymore (I think thanks to all that TalkTools work I did), but when I do… I can’t help but think “hey, if a dog can understand me… you should be able to figure it out!”
I know, not particularly nice. But I can’t help myself since I now have a yellow, furry, slobbery guy who understands me perfectly.